by Olivia Sandbothe | September 03, 2015
Just over 95 years ago, women finally won the right to vote with the passage of the 19th Amendment. We haven’t always had the right to make our voices heard, but the past century has shown that when we speak up, we are powerful.
We can exercise that power at work, too. Women have been a driving force in the labor movement since the very beginning, and today we make up the majority of AFSCME members.
This fall, as we gather together for the three-day 2015 AFSCME Women’s Conference, we will celebrate that voice as we build our leadership skills, learn the most effective strategies for union action, and connect to a strong sisterhood with women from across the country.
It’s more important than ever that committed women leaders and activists are involved in our union. We know that union involvement is one of the best ways to overcome the discrimination and disadvantages that women often face at work. But women still disproportionately work in low-wage jobs, and many of us are still juggling the pressures of work and family without the flexibility of paid time off.
We can change the status quo. All it takes is a commitment to supporting working families and the willingness to learn from each other.
You can register and learn more about the Women’s Conference, scheduled Oct. 9-11, at the JW Marriott in Indianapolis, by clicking here. We hope to see you there.
by Namita Waghray | September 03, 2015
NEW ORLEANS – Thousands of people – including quite a few dignitaries – came through this city to observe the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, but getting around wasn’t much of a hassle. Delores Montgomery and her colleagues saw to that.
As a long-time cab driver – and president of Local 234 Cab Drivers for Justice – Montgomery knows her city well, allowing her to get her fares to the memorial events quickly and efficiently.
“I know this city so well, I can tell you the best place to eat, the best place to listen to real New Orleans jazz, the quickest shortcut, the best time to cross the bridge and so much more,” she said. “I haven’t just driven around the city for the past 20 years. I live here!”
Montgomery and other drivers spent most of the weekend offering the residents of the Lower 9th Ward and Gentilly free cab rides from the events. These are areas that were hardest hit during the storm. The Lower 9th Ward also has seen very little of the rebuilding that other parts of the city have benefited from.
But much like the city of New Orleans, which seems like two very different cities, two sets of memorial events seemed to be the course of the anniversary observances.
On the one hand, there were events for high-powered politicians and the well-to-do, such as those attended by President Obama and former Pres. George W. Bush. For these events, residents of the Lower 9th Ward and other poor communities were relegated to the outside of the Pete Sanchez Community Center, where the President and other business people spoke.
Then there were the community events attended by residents and members of organizations like the Sierra Club, the 9th Ward Homeowners Association and the representatives of the New Orleans Public Library. They came together not only to talk of how far they have come together but also about the long and difficult road ahead.
Tisha Sheila, a long-time resident of the Lower 9th Ward, shared her thoughts with Reginald Green, a taxi driver and executive board member of Local 234, as he drove her back to her home.
Sheila, who raised her daughters and is taking care of her grandkids in the same house she’s lived in most of her life, said that, “with all the politicians that come here to tell us what they think, I really wish someone would take the time to listen to us.”
“We have seen very little of the rebuilding that the rest of the city is talking about,” she said. “We still don’t have a grocery store, very few of the original black-owned businesses that existed here before Katrina have come back. The politicians think we should be happy with a CVS – but that isn’t how you rebuild a community.”
Montgomery and other members of Local 234 agree. Beyond the free fares they offered this weekend, the union drivers work with other community organizations most weekends building playgrounds, rehabilitating homes and taking part in community activities that help rebuild their city.
“We aren’t out here once a year or when an anniversary occurs,” Montgomery said. “As a community, we meet on a regular basis to further the recovery work.”
by Laura Reyes | September 02, 2015
It will take all of us working together to fight corporate greed, particularly when it comes to our nation’s prisons, where billion-dollar corporations have moved in to profit on human misery.
AFSCME represents 85,000 corrections officers across the country, as well as mental health workers, parole officers, nurses and others throughout the criminal justice system. We see what happens when correctional facilities are sold to the highest bidder. And we know firsthand that the goal for these companies is not to protect our communities but to make money.
Our criminal justice system should not be powered by companies with a profit incentive. Upholding the law is inherently a function of government. It was never meant to be profitable. The top priority in any prison should be community safety.
But these giant corporations have moved into many states, empowered by governors who are happy to let government services wither away. The losers in this deal are workers as well as inmates, and the broader communities they serve.
An inmate in a private prison is much less likely to have access to decent medical care, decent food, rehabilitation services and training, or safe and humane conditions. We've already seen what happens in Michigan and Ohio when officials outsource food services in prisons to private companies – the food is so bad that only the maggots are enjoying it!
When AFSCME members in Ohio offered the lowest bid to replace these private food services, state officials found ways to disqualify that bid. They awarded the new contract to the same private food vendor that was causing the problems.
The food is not the biggest worry, though. Private prison corporations also want to replace trained corrections officers with lower-paid, less-experienced workers at these private prisons. This is a dangerous trend that undermines community safety. Corrections officers already have dangerous jobs. They deserve to be well trained and supported to safely conduct their important work.
This is a problem that affects entire communities. Private prison companies want a steady stream of customers to guarantee higher profits. So they push stricter sentencing, lock-up quotas, and the dumping of mental patients in prisons. One company insisted on long-term contracts in which they would be paid for unused prison beds if the number of inmates dipped below 90 percent.
Greedy contractors are also pushing changes in immigration laws, including “immigrant detention quotas.” New immigrants are being deprived of their freedom just to fill arbitrary quotas set in the Homeland Security Department funding bills.
Sentencing and immigration law are big issues that have serious consequences for our communities. We ought to be crafting these policies carefully and deliberately, with input from the public. We can’t have these policies driven by CEOs who cut back-room deals in our statehouses and city halls.
Unfortunately, we face many right-wing state officials who are intent on outsourcing all our work – schools, roads, trash collection, mental health and prisons. They’re not looking out for working people or for the communities we serve.
We must draw the line and insist that no one should profit from incarceration. A unified labor movement, working with community allies, can ensure that criminal justice is the essential government function that our citizens deserve.
Laura Reyes is the Secretary-Treasurer of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO, which represents 1.6 million workers. She was elected at the union’s 40th International Convention in June 2012.
by David Patterson | September 01, 2015
INDIANAPOLIS – Clarence “Wade” Havvard, an AFSCME Local 725 member and employee of the Indianapolis/Marion County Department of Public Works (DPW), was killed Aug. 26 in a wave of violence that has struck the city in recent weeks.
A father of four, the 32-year-old Havvard began working at the city’s Parks Department as a seasonal worker before joining the DPW and AFSCME since Sept. 15 of last year. Havvard was apparently sitting outside with friends. When the friends left, gunshots came from in between two houses and struck him in the chest. He died at the hospital a short time later.
“He was a hardworking employee,” said fellow Local 725 member Shonna Quick-Crowell. “This is a tremendous loss to our local and the city of Indianapolis. He will truly be missed.”
“It takes a heartless, soulless person to do something like this,” said Donnica Bates, the victim’s cousin. “He was a beautiful human being. He was a family man. His children will never see him walk through the door again.”
Fraternal Order of Police President Rick Snyder said police will work nonstop to find Clarence Havvard’s killer. The investigation is ongoing.
by Joe Weidner | August 31, 2015
COLUMBUS, Ohio – More than 3,000 AFSCME and fellow union members, retirees and supporters turned out here Aug. 21 to send a loud and clear message to the Koch brothers: The American Dream is not for sale.
The fattest of America’s fat cats, the Kochs sent their front group, Americans for Prosperity, into Ohio to showcase their right-wing, anti-union propaganda. The two-day “Defending the American Dream Summit” included five “Koch-approved” Presidential candidates.
“There are as many American Dreams as there are Americans,” said John A. Lyall, Ohio Council 8 president and AFSCME International vice president. “No one owns that dream, but the super-wealthy think they are entitled to buy it.”
“We’re here to stop right-to-work and to stand up for working people,” said Maurice Brown, president of AFSCME Local 250 representing Cincinnati city employees. “This is not just a union cause, we’re out here fighting for the common man in Ohio. This affects everyone.”
The great turnout of AFSCME members from across the state illustrates how members in Ohio are engaged and mobilized since they beat back an attempt by Governor Kasich to strip collective bargaining rights from public employees in 2011.
by Joye Barksdale | August 31, 2015
The Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW) is calling on women to complete a brief survey on what health information they need and the social media networks they participate in. CLUW will use the information to devise more ways of providing health information. Women do not have to be CLUW members to participate.
The survey, “Getting to Know You and Your Health Needs,” is available via CLUW’s website. CLUW Pres. Connie Leak says the questionnaire is an outgrowth of CLUW’s “commitment to empower union women.”
The survey is part of CLUW’s Spread the Word campaign, which gets the message out about heart disease and its impact on women. Heart disease is the number-one killer of women in the United States, even though women experience less obvious symptoms than do men.
The survey will be available through September.
by Pablo Ros | August 28, 2015
The first time Rick Bartolotta and Rachel Casey met, he came off as “standoffish,” she recalls. It happened at a meeting of the steering committee of Western New York Next Up, a coalition of new and young union activists in the Buffalo area.
“I tried to talk to him but he sort of blew me off,” she says.
That’s not what Rick remembers. In fact, he says, “I was very impressed. I was actually intimidated by her more than anything.”
Rick, 37, works for the treasury department of the City of Buffalo and is an active member of AFSCME Local 650 (Council 35). Rachel, 32, an employment counselor at the Erie County Department of Social Services, is an active member of the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA), Local 815.
Their first meeting in the spring of 2012 didn’t immediately lead to anything. But a couple of months later they ran into each other again. Appropriately enough for two young union activists, this time it happened at a picket line outside the Lancaster, New York, town hall where the town supervisor, Dino Fudoli, had insulted public workers by describing them as the “non-producing part of society.”
It was there at that picket line – brought together by their belief in public service and the right of workers to dignity and respect – that Rachel and Rick had their first serious conversation.
“We talked a lot about the town supervisor, Fudoli, how he was just a real jerk for the way he was talking about public-sector workers,” Rick remembers. “And we talked a little bit about our backgrounds, and Western New York Next Up. I had just gotten back from a training in DC, so she was asking me about what I’d learned in DC. I told her about how I’d toured the AFSCME headquarters and how cool it was to see the union in action.”
From then on, every one of their dates seemed to involve some union-related activity. They worked on the Labor Day parade together, putting up signs and helping to organize the parade. During the summer of 2012, they did some political organizing together, including lit drops for a candidate in Western New York.
“They weren’t actually dates but we were getting to know each other,” Rachel says.
Their first real date was to a haunted house around Halloween. But as one season led to another, most of the time they were spending together was through union-related events. They did a CSEA Next Wave happy hour, political work through labor walks, and held long phone calls discussing different things going on in the world, things that mattered to them and they hoped to influence or change. They talked about their lives and their personal likes and dislikes. They even did some Scott Walker-bashing.
“It was really, really cool to have someone with that same passion,” Rick recalls. “It grew our relationship. The union stuff is what opened the door. That’s what we had in common.”
By the time of the Next Wave conference in June 2013, they were ready to commit to each other for life.
Today, three years after their first serious conversation, Rick and Rachel are married and have a two-and-a-half month old son, Aiden.
“He’s already worn his AFSCME onesie,” Rachel says. She adds, half-jokingly: “We’re still not sure whom he will be marching with first, maybe daddy…. Not really, we’re still in negotiations.”
On a more serious note, Rick and Rachel worry about the world in which Aiden will grow up.
“We’re being attacked right now not only as middle class but as public workers and union members, too,” Rachel says. “There’s so much bad stuff going on, and you need to be part of the solution, not the problem. Right-to-work could happen here too, so we need to fight like hell for what we already have, especially now that we have a kid. We deserve to have these things. We work hard.”
“We don’t want a world run by the Koch brothers,” Rick adds. “We don’t want that for our son. The only way is to keep fighting. Even before we became parents our perspective was on the right track, but it’s reached a whole new level since he was born.”
Did you find love in your (labor) union? If so, we’d like to hear your story. Contact Pablo Ros at firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Clyde Weiss | August 28, 2015
A majority of Milwaukee County employees now have a 1.5 percent cost-of-living wage, thanks to the persistence of Wisconsin AFSCME Council 32.
It took months of one-on-one with county supervisors, but the efforts succeeded when the County Board voted overwhelmingly for the increase in July. They actually had to vote twice, the second time overriding a veto from County Exec. Chris Abele.
Then it took a flood of phone calls from AFSCME members and a legal opinion to spur the executive into finally factoring in the new wage rate. But now the raise is on its way to county workers, retroactive to June 21.
AFSCME Council 32 members demonstrated they deserved a raise, after seeing their standard of living erode through years of wage freezes and increases in benefit co-pays. Fourteen supervisors accepted their arguments that the county’s economic vitality depends on investing in quality public services and the workers who provide those services.
“We appreciate all the county supervisors who stood with us,” said Paul Spink, AFSCME Council 32 president. “Their leadership stands in stark contrast to a county executive who only wants to starve vital services that citizens depend on every day.”
by Kevin Brown | August 28, 2015
TROUTDALE, Ore. – Members of AFSCME Local 3132 (Council 75), who voted overwhelmingly to strike for better health care benefits, were still on the job after city negotiators conceded workers’ demand for quality health care, a 9 percent pay raise over three years, increased paid leave and much more.
“We stood together for nine months and fought off numerous attacks to our contract,” said Timothy Shoop, Local 3132 president. “It’s sad that it’s become our responsibility as city workers to protect good jobs in Troutdale, but that’s what we did. The city leadership has shirked that duty and abandoned common sense in these negotiations. We stand proud to hold the line for our community, our fellow workers and our families.”
Members of Local 3132 began to prepare for the possibility of a strike earlier this year through vigorous AFSCME Strong training. As negotiations turned for the worse, with management proposing large cuts to health insurance for the third bargaining cycle in a row, AFSCME leaders educated workers about what’s at stake, also signing up new members.
With support from the community and allies in the surrounding areas, local leadership organized rallies, worksite visits and other actions to show the strength of the workers. During a City Council meeting, members were joined by community allies, waving signs and sharing public comments in support of a fair contract.
There was no surprise when a strike vote was called and more than 95 percent of workers voted in favor of a strike, which would have been their first ever.
“Workers agreed to concessions in 2009 and 2012 to help the city when the economy took a turn for the worse,” added Shoop. “Now, at a time when the city budget has reserves of $1.2 million and Troutdale’s economy is strong, workers are holding the line for quality health care for their families and good jobs for their community.”
A ratification vote is scheduled for the first week in September.
by Pablo Ros | August 27, 2015
It was one o’clock in the morning, and the staff of Central Louisiana State Hospital had a major emergency on their hands. A week after Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Louisiana on Monday, Aug. 29, 2005, patients and staff from Charity Hospital in New Orleans were arriving at the Pineville hospital by the busloads, seeking refuge and assistance.
“They were psychiatric patients,” remembers Candice Cheney, a psychiatric supervisor at Central Louisiana State Hospital who retired last year. “They as well as their staff were traumatized because they had been locked in the basement of Charity Hospital for a week. They’d hardly eaten anything in all that time. The patients were hostile and afraid. It was total chaos. Our staff received them and assisted them. We worked all night long.”
Cheney was then president of AFSCME Local 3074 (Council 17), which represented the Central Louisiana State Hospital employees. She knew that the staff from Charity Hospital who had remained with their patients and saw them to safety in Pineville, 200 miles away, were also traumatized and separated from their families. Once their basic needs were met, she went around asking them if they were union members. Turned out they were from the same family, AFSCME.
“I told them I was the local president and started assisting them personally,” Cheney remembers. “I contacted my council president and told him we had to take care of our members. That’s when the relief effort started.”
Public workers were essential in preventive measures before Hurricane Katrina, as well as the relief and recovery efforts that followed. Michael Mitchell, a ferry boat captain, transported nearly 1,000 people seeking refuge across the Mississippi River. He worked for seven hours and made 30 trips before his ferry was shut down.
Alfretta Bush, a custodial worker and member of AFSCME Local 1991, remained at Charity Hospital during the storm. “I was scared but I also knew I had to do a job – to help save lives,” she said then. And AFSCME members from across the nation came to the rescue, including a crew of 35 Portland (Oregon) Water Bureau workers who helped rebuild New Orleans’ water system.
Ten years after the storm, we can still say about our AFSCME sisters and brothers: They rose to the challenge.
And we stood by each other. AFSCME developed a comprehensive relief effort to help 3,000-plus members in Louisiana, more than 800 of whom worked in New Orleans. These efforts included:
- Placing $100,000 for Katrina relief into an established fund
- Soliciting donations from members across the nation to help feed and clothe hurricane victims
- Deploying a team of union staff to provide support on the ground
- Starting an “adopt a family” program by which our members could house or fund housing for an AFSCME family
- Helping AFSCME members find jobs and providing them other basic necessities.
Cheney, the retired psychiatric supervisor, was part of these efforts, which went on for months. She remembers feeling proud of her union, especially when she handed out relief checks to her sisters and brothers.
“It was around December 23rd that AFSCME International brought down those checks,” she recalls. “And when I handed out those checks to our members they started crying, they were so grateful. And I was crying with them.
“I let them know that AFSCME was there for them, we were here, and I said I would not stop until I went around to every relief center in my area and until I found every member I possibly could to let them know that our union was there for them. It made me feel fantastic.”